On this week’s episode, difficult conversations about one of today’s most divisive topics: guns.

We begin with an interview between Willie Sparrow and Lorna Washington, longtime friends who first met each other when they started attending the same local church in Fort Myers, Florida more than a decade ago.

Although they’d shared a lot over the years, it wasn’t until 2015 — in the wake of the Charleston Church massacre in South Carolina — that the friends began having more candid conversations about guns, and realized they had very different thoughts on the subject.

Next, we’ll hear from a family whose deeply personal story about guns is punctuated by loss. Sean Smith grew up in the 80s, just across the Florida Peninsula from the church where Lorna and Willie met. 

On June 5, 1989, Sean, then 10, and his sister Erin, then 8, arrived home from school while their parents were still at work. Alone in their empty house, they went searching for a video game that their parents had previously hidden. But instead of finding the game, Sean found a .38-caliber revolver in his father’s dresser drawer.

Sean began playing with the gun, and unaware that it was loaded, he pulled the trigger, fatally shooting Erin in the chest.

In 2016, Sean sat down for StoryCorps with his mother, Lee — both to remember the tragic events of that day, and the years that followed.

Building on Willie and Lorna’s discussion, we shift to a story about one of the worst school shootings in US history. It happened on April 20, 1999, when two teens opened fire at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, killing twelve of their classmates and one teacher.

Amy Over was a senior at Columbine at the time and survived the attack. She came to StoryCorps two decades later with her 13-year-old daughter, Brianna, to talk about it.

Due to events like Columbine, active shooter drills have become increasingly common in schools today. In 2018, Dezmond Floyd,  then 10 years old, came to StoryCorps with his mother, Tanai Benard, to talk about what it was like to experience one firsthand. 

And finally, we come back to Willie Sparrow and Lorna Washington, whose conversation around guns reminds us that even when we disagree on an issue — perhaps especially then — it’s important to sit down and talk about it. 

Top photo: Artwork Lindsay Mound. 
Middle photo 1: Willie Sparrow and Lorna Washington at their StoryCorps interview on September 11, 2018 in Ft. Myers, FL. By Brenda Norbeck-Ford for StoryCorps.
Middle photo 2: Sean Smith and Lee Smith at their StoryCorps interview on January 10, 2016 in Fort Lauderdale, FL. By Jhaleh Akhavan for StoryCorps.
Middle photo 3: Amy Over and Brianna Over at their StoryCorps interview on March 10, 2019 in Parker, CO. By Kevin Oliver for StoryCorps.
Bottom photo: Dezmond Floyd and Tanai Benard at their StoryCorps interview on March 14, 2018 in Houston, TX. Photo by Gautam Srikishan for StoryCorps.

Released on January 28, 2020.

Like the music in this episode? Support the artists:
“Heat and Memory” by Jarrett Floyd
John Stockton Slow Drag” by Chris Zabriskie from the album Undercover Vampire Policeman
“The Temperature of the Air on the Bow of the Kaleetan” by Chris Zabriskie from the album Undercover Vampire Policeman
“Black Band of Water” by Snake Oil (StoryCorps Commission)
“Two Dollar Token” by Blue Dot Sessions from the album Warmbody

This podcast is brought to you by supporters of StoryCorps, an independently funded nonprofit organization, and is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.